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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Derek Wolfe: Shaq's shame

By Derek Wolfe, Columnist
Published May 7, 2014

When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine for his racist remarks during a private conversation, it was obvious to me he did the right thing.

Regardless of the origin of the recording, Sterling was further exposed as the racist he truly is. The key word here is “further.”

As many other articles have already said, it’s unfortunate it got to this point in the first place to punish Sterling. He has a long history of prejudiced views that he implemented into his business. Both in 2003 and 2006, he was sued for housing discrimination in a case in which he essentially tried to prevent African-Americans from renting out his properties. By all accounts, that is far worse and has a much more devastating impact than his most recent comments. But in the end, Sterling ultimately got what was coming to him, and it appears he will eventually be stripped of his ownership of the team. Justice is served. Finally.

The same cannot be said about former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal whose own shameful act was overshadowed by the Sterling coverage. Earlier this week, Shaq posted a disgusting photo on his Instagram of him contorting his face mocking 23-year-old Jahmel Binion of Detroit.

Binion has a rare condition called ectodermal dysplasia. It results in missing teeth and hair and also an inability to sweat. While it’s certainly possible that Shaq did not realize Binion had a condition, I really don’t care. Especially in a week that emphasized being careful in how you think, what you say and what you do, Shaq’s actions were idiotic and insensitive. And let’s not forget Shaq also has an MBA and Ed. D. Inexcusable.

As of now, it appears that all Shaq has done is apologize. On his Twitter, he wrote, “Made a new friend today when I called and apologized to Jahmel Binion. Great dude.” Binion appreciated the phone call but was still clearly upset when he was interviewed: “I was thinking ‘Man, he's supposed to be this role model, someone everyone is supposed to look up to. If Shaq does something like this, [everyone] will think, ‘We should do this.’”

Binion hit the nail on the head. Shaq is a public figure and must act like one. But more importantly, he’s a human who should show compassion for others. We should expect better from him. And we should also expect more from the NBA.

Shaq targeted another person. That is bullying, intentional or not, and is almost as equally atrocious as Sterling’s racist comments. If Adam Silver doesn’t punish him, then what exactly was the point of making an example out of Sterling? He created a new precedent that if your actions do not fall in the line with the NBA’s brand, you should be punished. Silver must abide by his own standards.

But so should we. Large TV media sources, such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and ESPN, have proven since the dawn of news that they will only cover the most controversial and interesting stories. What made the Sterling story so interesting was that players were threatening to boycott. Players are most definitely not going to boycott over a picture Shaq, an NBA icon, put up on his Instagram. No way.

So that leaves it up to us. We have to relentlessly educate each other about what is right and wrong at all times because there is no summer vacation from life. If the citizens of the United States are truly serious about removing the hateful, prejudiced behavior that stains our society, then every moment has to become a teaching moment. If something is racist on Monday, then it also has to be racist on Friday.

Consistency is key.

I want to live in a world without so much hatred. While that’s certainly a tall order, learning to think twice before we say — or post — something is a good place to start.

Derek Wolfe can be reached at dewolfe@umich.edu.